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Falletta on emotional Buffalo “Concert For Healing,” excitement for future of classical music ahead of Tanglewood debut

JoAnn Falletta.
JoAnn Falletta.

On Saturday, trailblazing conductor JoAnn Falletta makes her debut at Tanglewood in Lenox, Massachusetts alongside violinist Joshua Bell.

Falletta, who has led the Buffalo Philharmonic since 1998, will lead the Boston Symphony Orchestra through a program of Roberto Sierra's “Fandangos,” Respighi's “Fountains of Rome” and “Pines of Rome,” and Tchaikovsky's “Violin Concerto.”

“I thought we should have a piece on the program by a living composer from our time, 21st century, and that is Roberto Sierra," she told WAMC. "He's originally from Puerto Rico, he works now in New York. This piece ‘Fandango,’ he's borrowing an old form of baroque music, a dance form, and he's kind of mixing in the 21st century. But the piece is totally fun. It's a little bit like Ravel's ‘Bolero,’ if people have ever heard that and love that piece, that's what it's like. And I always love conducting it, and I think it's going to be fun to hear.”

Just a week and a half ago, Falletta conducted one of the most emotional concerts of her long career back home in Buffalo.

In May, a mass shooting at a city supermarket that targeted Buffalo’s Black community left 10 dead, three injured, and the community devastated.

“It was a very emotional, very emotional afternoon," Falletta told WAMC. "When we had this terrible tragedy in Buffalo, we immediately approached the religious leaders in the community, and the community is not very far from our hall. Our hall is only maybe a quarter of a mile from where the tragedy took place. We wanted to play a concert immediately in memory and they said, give us a little time to heal because it's so fresh now.”

The Buffalo Philharmonic Concert for Healing ultimately took place on July 24th.

“It was a free concert open to everyone," Falletta continued. "Every piece on their program was composed by an African American composer. We had two fabulous singers from the community, a wonderful soprano and actually, her husband, who was a reverend and a fantastic baritone. For the musicians and for me, it was probably the most important concert we played all year, because it was something that reached out to a community that we don't see as much as we want to, and they were there with us, and they were praying with us, they were calling out and just singing at the end, singing along with us, it was amazing. And we now we want to make it, we’ve decided to make an annual event where we do one every year just to celebrate the diversity of Buffalo. Buffalo is a very diverse community. And we're proud of that we're a city that welcomes immigrants, we welcome new people all the time, and this is now going to be a tradition.”

When Falletta took over the Buffalo Philharmonic, she was the first woman to lead an American ensemble of its size and stature. Years on, Falletta has trained subsequent generations of female conductors. She says the climate has finally improved for women attempting to navigate the long male-dominated world of classical music.

“When I first began my career, I expected that things would change for women very quickly," said the conductor. "I mean, it seemed like it had to, but it's taken a while. But I think in the last five years or so, the door has finally swung completely open. We see young women now starting their professional careers as conductors, composers, in every facet of our classical music world. And, finally. And it's good, it's good. I love to be able to help people, women especially, who have questions and want to talk about experiences they might be having, or issues that they might be having. I'm very happy and honored to do that if I can help, but I think the situation is finally changing.”

WAMC asked Falletta what about the future of classical music she’s most excited about right now.

“We are now opening up our classical music canon to 21st century I think, and maybe, having had the time and the pandemic to study and to reassess where we are, I think so many of us are thrilled now not only to keep playing on wonderful pieces that we've always treasured, but to find new voices, to find voices of diversity that we haven't played," said Falletta. "I've learned so many new works that I am thrilled about during the pandemic, so I think that the environment in the concert hall is going to be charged with the energy of these new voices along with Beethoven and Bach and the people that we've always played. So it's as if we've opened the door to a brave new world, and it's exciting for us.”

JoAnn Falletta conducts the Boston Symphony Orchestra in her Tanglewood debut Saturday at 8 p.m. You can hear the broadcast live on WAMC.

Josh Landes has been WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief since February 2018, following stints at WBGO Newark and WFMU East Orange. A passionate advocate for Western Massachusetts, Landes was raised in Pittsfield and attended Hampshire College in Amherst, receiving his bachelor's in Ethnomusicology and Radio Production. His free time is spent with his cat Harry, experimental electronic music, and exploring the woods.
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